Independence County faces growing number of literacy problems

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – The U.S. Department of Education estimates more than half of the adults in Arkansas struggle with their literacy skills, but an organization in Batesville is offering help to those who cannot read. The Ozark Foothills Literacy Project now helps about 30 adults, up from just three last year. A couple from Cord, Ark.,  is among those receiving tutoring, and the project director says they have a success story worth sharing.

"Mostly words, I have a lot of trouble with," Seneda Whitehead said.

Whitehead knows what it takes to strive for a better life. Her family moved Albania to America when she was nine. She spent most of her life here in the land of opportunity, but is just now getting a chance to overcome an inability to read.

"I'm doing really good on reading, but, spelling, I got to work more on that," Whitehead said. "But my tutor says I'm doing great."

Last September, Whitehead and her husband Jonathan came to the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project. They began working with tutors and also helped each other at home.

"She helps me a lot," Jonathan said, "and she keeps me in line."

Seneda Whitehead, though, has improved so much that she was recently honored as the Arkansas Literary Councils' Student of the Year.

"Not only does she work ahead in her own book and seek out more homework, but she also helps her husband in his studies," Nicole Stroud said.

Stroud is the director of the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project. She says Whitehead's achievement is one others could reach, but many are often too proud to pursue.

"I think, for some, it's really hard to knock on this door for the first time," Stroud said. "It requires a lot of courage and a decision that you really do want to change your current status."

The Ozark Foothills Literacy Project serves Independence, Sharp and Fulton counties. The National Adult Literacy Survey found more than half of the adults in that area struggle with basic reading skills. Stroud says her organization has handled the growing need for services, as it recruited more tutors than students for the first time last month.

Stroud, however, says that the literacy project's biggest obstacle now is money. The organization currently receives some funds from the Arkansas Department of Education and continually applies for competitive grants, but Stroud says more donations and volunteers are are needed.

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